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September 2023: An Ann Patchett twofer, a fig-filled new year, and the worst weather in America

Dear friends,

Happy September, happy Labor Day weekend to those in the US, and happy 27th anniversary to Josh and me. We’ll be celebrating by having friends over for Shabbat dinner (in other words, a regular Friday :-). Scroll down for an extra-long list of recommendations (books and other things), a new Literary Modi’in event, stories of the month, a recipe and more.


Brief writing update: I’ve reviewed all 10 of the stories for my new book, did A LOT of revising, and I’m fairly happy with 9 out of 10. The tenth one requires significantly more work and thinking, which was a little too much to deal with while away from home. (Did I mention I was in the States for three weeks? More on that at the end of the newsletter, but I did absolutely no writing for over a full week). Anyway, I’ve got one more week before I start my new day job, so fingers crossed I can focus, focus, focus on that story and make some headway. (Sorry local friends, no morning coffee or beach dates next week)!


Two more things: 1) I’d love to share my book recommendations and events with more people. Please help me out by forwarding this newsletter to your book-loving friends and asking them to subscribe. Thank you! 2) If you’ve been meaning to buy a copy of The Book of Jeremiah for yourself or for a friend, you can now get a signed copy directly from me!


Recommended Reading

I’m up to 66 books for the year! I read 10(!!) books this month, many of them excellent.


These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: Ann Patchett’s magnificent collection of essays should be required reading for all readers and writers, for all humans. She is a model of how to be gracious and live our lives. The title essay, about her unexpected friendship with Sooki Raphael, Tom Hanks’ personal assistant, is a masterpiece. Other essays reflect her insights on the writing life, bookstore ownership, the loss of a dear friend, her three fathers, the decision not to have children, her marriage, a year of no shopping, Snoopy and more. As the book description says, Patchett is a literary alchemist who knows how to “create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight.” Highly recommend!


Tom Lake by Ann Patchett: I don’t usually read two books by the same author in such close proximity, but given how much I love Ann Patchett I wanted to get to her new novel right away. Tom Lake features the Nelson family — Lara, Joe and their three daughters in their 20s, who have come home to the family farm in Michigan during the pandemic. While picking cherries, Lara’s daughters beg her to tell them the story of a famous actor with whom she once shared a stage and a romance. Lara’s storytelling is masterful - as Kirkus puts it, “braided strands [that] culminate in a denouement at once deeply sad and tenderly life-affirming.” Audiobook fans: Meryl Streep narrates this one — need I say more?


The Archivists by Daphne Kalotay: Daphne Kalotay’s excellent story collection deals with private losses and the shocks of history as the characters find connection, hope, and liberation. The stories are about survival and loss, identity and memory, as well as life’s absurdities, all told with humor and empathy. We meet a caseworker trying to help his elderly Holocaust survivor clients, a classics expert dating a musician she’s met at a gas station, a woman who has a seizure while jogging and her on-the-spectrum next-door neighbor, a group hiking in Germany, and a 91-year-old grandmother celebrating her birthday while relating the story of her first love. I liked this blurb from the NYT Book Review: "Beautiful, precise and at times bitingly funny. While [Kalotay] does not spare her characters from suffering, her stories often open toward real, complex hope." Listen to Daphne discuss her collection at the August Literary Modiin event this past week.


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: I’ve heard about this book since it came out in 2019, and I’m glad I picked it up. Miracle Creek is a twisty courtroom drama that tackles parenting special needs children, the psychology of immigrants, myriad marriages and the 'right' way to raise children. An explosion at special treatment center leaves two people dead, and (as Library Journal puts it), "Kim effectively uses her background as a trial lawyer, skillfully crafting her narrative by interweaving the stories of her characters, each of whom speak for themselves as the story progresses toward a surprise ending.” I’m looking forward to the author’s new book, out this month!


A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa: I have no idea who recommended this book, but I had written the title down on my iPhone and added it to my cart. Wow. As I saw in one review, this is a “genre-busting blend of autofiction, essay, scholarship, sleuthing and literary translation” in which the author sets out to find every possible piece of information about an eighteenth-century Irish poet, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, who had composed a lament upon her husband’s murder. While nursing and tending to her own small children, Ní Ghríofa becomes obsessed with the poem and the poet. The book moves between past and present, quest and elegy, a lyrical mediation on motherhood, language, and the erased lives of women. It was easy to see why this book received dozens of accolades and won/was a finalist for many awards.


Also of note, both excellent:

  • Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout features Lucy Barton at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, bundled away in Maine with her ex-husband and friend William. “Graceful, deceptively light . . . Lucy’s done the hard work of transformation. May we do the same.” (The New York Times)

  • Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead: The sequel to Harlem Shuffle, Colson Whitehead’s new novel is “a darkly funny tale of a city under siege.” Furniture salesman and ex-fence Ray Carney is pulled back into the “crooked game” when he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter and hits up his old police fixer. “[A] masterwork of stylish noir and social satire .” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Events

Due to the way the Jewish holidays fall out this year, we will not have a Literary Modiin event in September. But you can already sign up for our October Literary Modiin event, which promises to be great: Sunday, October 15, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern / 12 pm Central, we’ll hear from Linda Kass (BESSIE), Daniel Victor (THE EVIL INCLINATION), and Tara Ison (AT THE HOUR BETWEEN DOG AND WOLF). Register here.



Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Catch the recordings here.


And save the dates for upcoming Literary Modiin events: Sunday, November 5 (in-person and on Zoom), and Sunday, December 3. Details to come.


Stories of the Month

Conversations With My Father by Idra Novey (Granta): Last month, I recommended the author’s new novel, Take What You Need, and this month, I’m recommending her terrific story about fathers and writing, fiction and fact.


Issue Three of Ruby Literary: Ruby is a new(ish) literary journal focusing on food narratives, and I enjoyed several pieces in this issue, especially: One Letter by Alice Kaltman, The Polish Bride by Patricia Q. Bidar, and Unk by Paul Beckman.


Recipe of the Month: Roasted Chicken with Figs and Rosemary

One of the reasons I was especially happy to come home to Israel last week was that it’s fig season here. There’s no need to buy expensive figs in the store when you can go out and pick them! The other night I made this very easy recipe (modified from NYT Cooking), which would be great for Rosh Hashanah.

  • 4½ lb bone-in chicken parts

  • 1 tsp coarse kosher salt

  • 2 rosemary sprigs, needles removed from stems (discard the stems)

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • ½ tsp finely grated orange or lemon zest, plus optional orange or lemon wedges for serving

  • ½ tsp black pepper

  • 1 pound ripe figs, stemmed and quartered lengthwise

  • Olive oil

Marinate the chicken in olive oil, salt, rosemary, garlic, citrus zest and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or overnight). Preheat the oven to 450 F / 225 C, and place the chicken pieces in a roasting dish, arranging the figs among the pieces. Sprinkle with more olive oil, if you’d like. Roast for about 40-45 minutes (a bit less for white meat). Serve with lemon or orange wedges. Simple and yummy!




Random Recommendations from My Month

If you like…

  • Hiking in the “worst weather in America,” in very tough terrain, to reach summits that are in the clouds (read: no view), try the White Mountains in New Hampshire! Just kidding: we had a fabulous time, the cool weather was a treat after a crazy hot summer in Israel, and I can finally walk up and down steps again.



  • Sculpture…take a sculpture tour in Central Park with my amazing cousin Wendy Glantz Swain. (Contact me for her details). Shown here: two sculptures of literary figures. Can you name them?


Hint: one of them wrote The Little Mermaid and one of them wrote A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Macbeth (to name a few :-).

  • Figs and foraging…come foraging/biking with me in Israel!



Just kidding: I’m not going to reveal the secret spot of this prolific tree, where I collected all of these figs in about 10 minutes, but I will take you to other spots.


Wishing those who celebrate a shana tova / שנה טובה / happy new year! See you next [year] month, with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more. Stay cool and happy reading!


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